Internet Books-- the next generation

by Alan Zisman (c) 1996. First published in Computer Player, March 1996

The Internet for Busy People
by Christian Crumlish
Osborne McGraw-Hill
ISBN 0-07-882108-8
$22.95 (US)

The Internet Yellow Pages (3rd Edition)
by Harley Hahn
Osborne McGraw-Hill
ISBN 0-07-882182-7
$22.95 (US)

The Internet Health, Fitness, and Medicine Yellow Pages
by Matthew Naythons, MD and Anthony Catsimatides
Osborne McGraw-Hill
ISBN 0-07-882188-6
$22.95 (US)

The World Wide Web Complete Reference
by Rick Stout
Osborne McGraw-Hill
ISBN 0-07-882142-8
$29.95 (US)

Serving the Web (includes CD-ROM)
by Robert Jon Mudry
Coriolis Group Books, distributed by IDG Books
ISBN 1-883577-30-6
$54.99 (CDN)

I?m on my third generation of Internet books, in about as many years. The first generation included volumes like Michael Fraase?s Internet Tour Guide volumes (for different computer platforms), focusing on how to get connected, and Paul Gilster?s ?Internet Navigator? series, looking at how to use the classic Internet text-based tools like e-mail, ftp, and gopher.

The second generation came out in response to the sudden explosion of popularity of graphical tools using the World Wide Web-- Mosaic, and Netscape Navigator. Suddenly, the text-oriented classics seemed old fashioned, while the number of Net users doubled and doubled again, nearly all attracted by the glitter of graphics, sound, and video on the Web.

Now, with the Web established as the main attraction on the Net and the number of users continuing to increase, the needs of readers have fragmented. On the one hand, the continuing surge of new users continue to need a focused introduction to finding their way around the anarchy of the Net. On the other hand, veteran (i.e. anyone with at least six months experience) Net users want more -- increasingly, they are wanting to create their own Web pages or even set up their own Web servers.

Christian Crumlish?s ?The Internet for Busy People? is one of a series of ?xxx for Busy People? books recently published by Osborne McGraw-Hill. It shares the strengths and one drawback of this attractive series. Like its team-mates, it is an attractive introduction to its subject. All pages are printed in full-colour, making use of colour highlights to draw the reader?s attention to text, and including colour screen shots and post-modern cartoon characters.

The text is clearly organized, with each chapter starting off with a Fast Forward outline, making it easy to hone in on exactly what the reader needs to know. The actual text is wryly readable, at the same time informative and opinionated. As befitting the needs of today?s beginning Net user, it starts off with the Web and Web browsers, and then moves into the areas of the Net that the current generation of browsers serve less well, if at all-- mail, UseNet, real-time chat, ftp, Telnet, and gopher. Back to the Net for searching and a brief introduction to home-page design, followed by useful appendices on connections and links.

This book would serve as my standard recommended introduction to the Internet except for one limitation-- like all of the ?For Busy People? books, it limits itself to Windows-95 versions of software. (Beware-- this is nowhere indicated on the cover...) In some ways, this is less of a limitation than it sounds-- Internet programs such as Netscape Navigator, or Eudora Mail have similar versions for Macintosh, Windows 3.1 and even Unix machines. And of course, general topics such as Web searches will be the same regardless of computer platform used. But for the vital topics of actually getting connected to the Net, Crumlish focused entirely on Win95 options, including Microsoft Network. Users of other systems can benefit from this book-- but for specific, step-by-step hand-holding, they?ll be best off looking for books aimed at their computing platform.

?The Internet Yellow Pages? are now into their third edition, claiming more than one million copies in print. Now, we get the new, 1996 edition. This is needed, because of the ever-changing nature of the Net... by the time a book gets into print, its content is already outdated.

The Yellow Pages is arranged like the phone company?s venerable reference source-- don?t expect chapters with paragraphs of text. Instead, its 900+ pages are organized with short listings, by alphabetized topics, from Agriculture to Zines and on to Zoology. A table of contents and index makes it easy to find individual topics or addresses. Along with the actual address, each item includes a short, sprightly description, and replacing the ads in the actual phone book, are frequent short, illustrated promos for different sections.
With well-over half-a-million home pages (and rising), even the near-thousand pages here cannot hope to be complete, but Harley Hahn has done a good job of covering a wide range of sites, and doing so in an amusing fashion. This is not a book you?ll want to read from cover to cover, but it can be a fun and useful reference for any aspiring Net surfer.

Osborne McGraw-Hill has expanded the series with a companion volume, ?The Internet Health Fitness and Medicine Yellow Pages?. Co-edited by a real medical doctor (gasp!), this specialized volume looks at topics ranging from Addiction to (again) Zoology, including both alternative and traditional health-care sources.

I know a volunteer group working with children with cancer-- as a test experiment I looked to see whether I could use this book to find resources for them-- and it worked... four or five potential Net addresses both for the children, parents, support people, and care-givers.

Again, not a book to sit down and read, but a potentially valuable reference.

Note-- you may find both of these Yellow Pages volumes sold in Canada under the titles ?Golden Directory?, for copyright reasons. Do not confuse them with Jim Carroll?s ?Canadian Internet Yellow Pages? volumes-- a valuable series, focusing on Canadian resources.

Rick Stout?s ?The World Wide Web-- Complete Reference? is aiming across the spectrum, at every potential user of the Web, from Internet newbies, to would-be Web publishers. It starts off with advice on getting connected, moving quickly from Unix shell accounts through Internet Service Providers, to accounts with on-line services such as CompuServe. He helps with picking a modem, while including information for Windows, Win95, Mac, and OS2 users.

The bulk of the book, however, is aimed at potential home-page creators. The book moves through beginning tips for working with HTML (the language of the Web), through adding new HTML 3 features, working with multimedia objects, and adding CGI interactive objects such as user-response forms and questionnaires.

Several tools for editing HTML pages are assessed, along with how to find a home for your new page, and where to begin to publicize it. Attention is given to those wanting to create their own Web servers, including looking at vital issues of security. A final section looks realistically at the what can be expected doing business on the Web, ending with a nearly two-hundred page catalogue of business sites already established on the Web.

While trying to be comprehensive, this book suffers, perhaps, by trying to cover such a broad range of readers-- an introduction for new users, an HTML editor section, and a guide for business-oriented Web sites; some readers may prefer to look single volumes focusing on just one of these topics with added depth.

One example of such a specialized book is Robert Jon Mudry?s ?Serving the Web?. As its title suggests, it is aimed at users wanting to establish their own presence on the Web, ranging from a simple personal home page on someone else?s server, through your own server with a modem-connection, to adding a high-speed leased-line connection, to running a Unix box with multiple connections.

It helps readers assess their needs, and look at a range of hardware and software solutions. Security concerns are addressed. The bulk of the book, again, looks at creating Web pages... from simple HTML (both hand-coded or using authoring tools), through a wide range of more advanced issues-- forms, scripts, image maps, advanced CGI add-ins, and Netscape extensions. Inevitably, since the Web is a moving target, recent features such as Netscape 2.0?s tables are not covered; still, there is brief mention of up-coming additions such as VRML 3-D, RealAudio, Java, and secure commercial transactions.

A CD-ROM is enclosed, including audio, video, and clipart and a range of shareware and freeware. This includes programs for creating home pages, such as HotMetal and HTML Assistant, and Web server software for multiple platforms. As well, for the really ambitious, Slackware 2.2.0 is included, letting users install Linux, a free Unix clone for PCs. Installing Linux opens up the possibility of using a standard PC (386 or better with at least 4 megs of ram) as a much more powerful Web server.

(Potential experimenters with Linux may want to take a look at Que Books? ?Using Linux?, a single volume focusing on this free and powerful operating system, again with a Slackware CD-ROM, including a suite of Internet tools. ISBN 0-7897-0100-6, $67.99 in Canada).

Search WWW Search

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan